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When the Network for Public Education issued two reports scrutinizing the failure of the federal Charter Schools Program, the second report was criticized by one Will Flanders of the far-right think tank Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, whose critique was published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Flypaper. Flanders recently wrote a proposal to expand vouchers in Wisconsin and claimed that doing so would create an economic boom in the state. The Flanders claims were debunked by William Mathis of the National Education Policy Center.
Carol Burris of the Network for Public Education wrote about the debunking of Flanders by Mathis:
William Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center, recently published a critical review of a report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) that argued for the expansion of vouchers in Wisconsin. The co-author of the report is Will Flanders, the research director of WILL. Flanders’ report claims that if vouchers are expanded, more low-income children will graduate college, thus creating a “ripple effect” of financial benefit for the state.
Readers of this blog might remember Mr. Flanders. Several months ago, he wrote a critique of our NPE report, Still Asleep at the Wheel that was published by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation on its Flypaper blog. The blog entitled The Glaring Errors in NPE’s New Anti-charter School Report claimed that 11 of the 289 schools reviewed by NPE as part of our investigation of the Wisconsin grantees of the Federal Charter School Program were incorrectly labeled as closed.
To identify those charters, NPE had used the Wisconsin list of closed schools. Apparently, there are some anomalies in Wisconsin listings–schools that change NCES numbers are sometimes listed as closed when they are not. When we further investigated, we found that Mr. Flanders was correct on five schools but that we were indeed correct regarding the status of the other 6 or the 11—not a very good average for Mr. Flanders given the size of the list. Ironically, as we did our review, we also found 2 closed charter schools we had missed. We made corrections. However, Mike Petrilli and Will Flanders refused to acknowledge and correct their errors beyond one school, The Banner School, no matter what evidence I presented.
Now it seems that our critic’s own work has far more glaring errors than a few mislabeled schools.
Dr. Mathis points out a variety of problems with unsupported causal claims and poor use of research, etc. But I’ll zero in here on one part of the review: The WILL report includes two key numbers. First, it claims that voucher students are 38% more likely to graduate from college, a claim based on a single, problematic study that is inconsistent with other results and that has itself been critiqued.
Second, it claims that this 38% increase will generate a $3.2 billion increase in consumer spending and taxes. According to William Mathis, this $3.2 billion figure is the result of a substantial mathematical error: “… the trumpeted dollar figure in the report literally doesn’t add up. Lifting the voucher cap, readers are told, will generate a $3.2 billion increase in consumer spending and personal gains. But the figures presented in the report come up exactly $91 million short of $3.2 billion. This is undoubtedly just arithmetic carelessness (and it’s not clear which figures are the source of the error), but does further undermine one’s faith in the research.” The claim that vouchers will boost the economy by billions of dollars is sheer speculation.
Read what Ruth Conniff of the Wisconsin Examiner has to say about WILL and the report here. You can read the NEPC review here.
I wonder if we will see a Thomas B. Fordham blog entitled “The glaring errors in WILLs new pro-voucher report.” I suspect we will not.